Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Creating & Running LA BOHÈME Costumes with MARY SEASLY

Before last week’s final dress rehearsal of La bohème I was able to check in with longtime Seattle Opera staff member Mary Seasly (left, photo by Philip Newton), who works these performances as Mimì’s Wardrobe Attendant. But long ago, Mary also worked on the team that created these now-iconic La bohème costumes. She told me a little about her work both then and now, and a little about the legendary designer Martin Pakledinaz.
Mary Seasly outside Mimì's dressing room
Philip Newton, photo

Mary, what’s the difference between working on the Costume crew and the Wardrobe crew?
Different skill set in many cases. The Costume crew is a group of artisans that have skills in building, fitting, altering costumes; tailoring, dress-making and all things in between: millinery work [hats]; and there’s often some footwear that needs to be modified or built, depending on the production.

And Wardrobe?
We are engineers. We make the costumes work for the production. That sometimes involves specific rigging, if there’s a we go forward in the rehearsal process you often find out those little specific things.

So it’s Applied Costuming; getting the costumes on this particular group of people, for this staging of the show.
Right. And in addition to getting the costumes on and off we support the performers in their performance: getting them dressed on time, making sure they’re comfortable, making sure they have water or whatever they need for their vocal production. (Sometimes that’s little candies or mints or something like that.)

It’s an intimate collaboration: you’re in the dressing rooms with them, sort of their ground crew.
That’s true. We are there for them, for whatever comes up.

You’re working Wardrobe now; but you also worked at the Costume Shop when these amazing La bohème costumes were first created.
Thirty years ago! Summer of 1991, I was a cog in the wheel of building these exquisite costumes. It was a huge crew, with many artisans from different theaters in Seattle.

What was it like to work in the Costume Shop in those days? They were over in the building that’s now the Armory, in those days the “Food Circus...”
They called it the “Center House.” We had a lot of space up there on the Fourth Floor. It was an old 1920s-30s building without air conditioning, so the windows would be wide open in the summertime, and we’d hear all the sounds of everybody enjoying the Fun Forest at Seattle Center.

In the story of La bohème Mimì is a seamstress...sounds like where she would go to work.
Exactly. She might have been building her own little pink hat. It was a great group, well-managed by some longtime employees of Seattle Opera. We were split between dress-makers and tailors, producing the women’s garments and the men’s garments.

Brandie Sutton in Musetta's Act 2 Costume
Philip Newton, photo

Musetta’s big yellow dress is iconic for this production of Bohème; but the guys look very smart, too.
Glad to hear that, we worked diligently. It was a hot summer and we were working with all those wools and velvets. Martin’s designs were superbly specific to the era. There was not a detail that was missed. The men’s coats, vests, and trousers all have fully-functioning pockets. Sometimes in costumes something appears functional but it’s not. But Martin required the real thing.

The choice was made to set the opera in the 1890s, around the time of composition. Which is not actually when the book takes place...the book is fifty years earlier.
Right, but it works beautifully.

Martin Pakledinaz designed costumes for a lot of great Seattle Opera productions over the years: Orpheus and Eurydice, Lohengrin, Iphigeníe en Tauride and the Ring cycle.
He was a joy to work with. Not always easy! But just impeccable designs. And thirty years later, we’re presenting them again, and they still stand.

Is it rare, for costumes to have that longevity?
This production has been used frequently by Seattle Opera, and rented out to other companies. There’s been a lot of maintenance, cheers to the Seattle Opera Wardrobe and Costume Shops for that. And it’s just as gorgeous as I remember it.

Do you have a favorite garment in the show?
I’m very fond of Rodolfo’s coats...but that little pink hat!

La cuffietta, the bonnet Rodolfo buys for Mimì!
There’s such a tenderness to what it represents. I think it’s a lovely little piece.

Elizabeth Caballero as Mimì and Francesco Demuro as Rodolfo remember when he bought her that pink bonnet in Seattle Opera's 2013 La bohème
Elise Bakketun, photo

It’s so distinct, it sticks out, you can’t miss it. And you get why someone would become fixated on it.
Why she would have it on her deathbed.

Is there anything unusual about your specific Wardrobe duties for this Bohème?
All of us in Wardrobe, our performers and everybody here in the theater, we’re all helping each other in this age of COVID.

The singers go out onstage unmasked; but is everybody masked, backstage?
We have a whole protocol of when the singers put their mask on, how they take it off, where they put it when they take it off...we use little Tupperware containers, clearly labeled with each singer’s name. The performer is responsible for handling their own mask, of course. Before they step onstage, it goes into the lidded container, and that’s reversed when they exit the stage and come back to their dressing room.

You guys have thought everything through!
We try.

No comments:

Post a Comment